Stories of hope
Since 2003 I have been a proud sponsor of the Vera Bradley Foundation in loving memory of my sister, Beverly Goldsmith-Mills, who died at age 45 from breast cancer. Five years to the day of my sister’s death, the face of breast cancer changed in my family. The face became my own as I was diagnosed with breast cancer followed by a bi-lateral mastectomy.
How has my body image changed since then? I am still the same person, same smile, same interests. As a physically active woman, it was important for me to keep a promise I had made to my father almost two years ago. Six weeks after surgery my dad and I completed our three-day hike with full backpacks into the Grand Canyon and slept two nights under God’s starry sky. True, I do not have quite the same energy as before cancer, but I choose to remain active. Yet, when I shower, the physical realities of life are visible.
Body Image. It is amazing how our senses are heightened about a particular topic when asked to speak about the subject. Just one month ago I was at a conference in Las Vegas, land of plastic surgery and silicone breasts in a variety of sizes. A place where every woman, consciously or subconsciously, compares herself to others. The hair, the clothes, the breast size – the “LOOK” – it’s all about that in Vegas, isn’t it?
As my day of meetings came to a close, I raced back to my room to change. There were still two hours of sunshine for me to read by the pool and relax. Something I love to do. Then the voice of body image inside said, “Beth you don’t have a prosthetic swimsuit yet.” It was easy to hide the fact both breasts were removed during the cold days of winter with blazers and sweaters. Later came the two-silicone prosthetics with a pocketed bra so I could look “natural” in spring and summer clothes. “But Beth, this is your 2-piece swimsuit. This is Vegas. Don’t put yourself through it. Go exercise, go shopping, sit in your room and read – Go anywhere, except to the pool with no breasts!”
Then, I remembered, body image. What does a decision to refrain from what I enjoy say about my personal body image? Knowing the essence of what I wanted to communicate tonight – to go confidently forward with life. To every survivor, though you may feel that part of the essence of your femininity is missing, do what you love, practice the art of living well. And in so doing, teach others to live well.
So, I put on my swimsuit for the first time since surgery, looked in the mirror and was flooded with a range of emotions.
You look ridiculous. What will people think? They will think you’ve had breast cancer. Oh no, it’s Vegas, they will think you’re a transvestite. So I said to myself, “Self, the confidence in which you bring to the change of your body’s femininity is directly proportional to the ease of those around you regarding those physical changes. Beth, don’t just hide the fact you are a survivor with silicone-pocketed bras. Don’t let breast cancer stop you from doing what you love to do. Go confidently to the pool and enjoy the beautiful day.”
So, I did – Yes I was uncomfortable at moments, but I had a great time. Ironically, upon return from the pool, the magnetic key card to my room no longer worked. I was locked out. With shorts and a t-shirt over my swimsuit, I waited in the hall for maintenance to come and open the door.
The gentleman approached and said, “I am sorry for your wait, Sir” Sir, I thought – he approached me from behind, he can’t even see my chest. Why is he calling me Sir? Then as he opened the door and gave me a new key card he said, "I am so sorry Ma'am." "No problem," I replied. Who knows what my puzzled face must have communicated, but I wanted to kiss that man. All I knew was that he recognized my womanhood with windblown hair, a t-shirt and no breasts! That was good enough for me.
Body image. In my opinion, body image is a choice we make each day. If you meet me on the street wearing my prosthetics, you would not know that I am a breast cancer survivor. My smile is the same, my golf swing is sometimes effective. Most importantly, I choose to live abundantly in the light of God’s grace and love. Hoping, that one day the light from my life will help bring a cure in the future.